Sunday, August 3, 2008

How Old Is Too Old?

How old is too old? And when it comes to the presidency, how young is too young? Both candidates this season have taken flak on the question.

The Constitution sets the chronological bar for the office at thirty-five, and that may be a reflection of the document’s authors. James Madison, who devised the “Virginia Plan” for three separate branches of government, restrained by checks and balances, was himself just thirty-six when he earned the sobriquet “Father of the Constitution.” Alexander Hamilton was six years younger. Jonathan Dayton of the New Jersey delegation was only twenty-six years old. The overall average for the delegates who gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 was never over forty-three years-of-age. Perhaps people grew up faster in the eighteenth century, but even accounting for cultural differences, the framers who wrote our country’s charter make Barak Obama seem like a geezer.

On the other hand, Benjamin Franklin was still able to participate and lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings at age eighty. And the man people rightly assumed would ascend to the office of the presidency, General Washington, was old enough to be a card-carrying member of the AARP. A champion wrestler in his youth, Washington could still pin men half his age when commanding the armies of the republic. But neither he nor Franklin, as far as I know, was familiar with how to use a personal computer. So John McCain shouldn’t be ruled out just because he is (in his own words) “older than dirt.”

The issue in November shouldn’t be age, but each candidate’s policies, his leadership qualities and vision for the nation. That’s the way the framers would have wanted it. And you can call me old-fashioned or geriatric on that score.

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